You can replay the game a million times in your head and the final painful result will never change for Liberty.
Heart-breaking, frustrating, depressing, regrettable all describe how Millbrook continued the Eagles’ winless season with a 39-38 overtime victory Thursday in Bealeton.
“I mean, we let them hang around too long. They made one more play then we did,” said Liberty coach Travis Buzzo, whose team fell to 0-7 with two games left.
Liberty is having perhaps its least successful season since the school opened in 1994.
“Am I happy at this moment? No, there is so much more they can achieve. Five plays in the last four games have changed games. If we could change four plays we’d have three wins,” said Buzzo, referring to winnable games against Culpeper, Sherando and Millbrook.
The Eagles were also competitive for much of the game in losses to Mountain View, Kettle Run and James Wood.
Facing the reviously winless Pioneers, now 1-7, Liberty had the upper hand most of the game, building an early 24-10 lead, but several regrettable mistakes helped Millbrook recover as the game turned into an exciting dogfight in the second half.
After Liberty took a 38-31 lead in overtime, the Pioneers scored on a 10-yard touchdown run by Joaquin Canada on first down, then boldly went for a two-point conversion.
Millbrook quarterback Detric Brown got flushed out of the pocket looking to pass, rolled out to his right, and surged into the end zone for the winning points and Millbrook’s first lead of the night.
On the plus side offensively, freshman quarterback Austin Mawyer continued to develop as a run-pass threat to complement Cody Owens’ dynamic running.Tyler Caporaletti, Chase Oliver and Joey Triplett are a solid receiving unit.
Defensively, the Eagles slowed down the Millbrook running game and harassed Brown into a difficult statistical night.
“We’re getting better every day on offense. It’s shown the last two weeks,” said Buzzo, who has noticed his young team progressing. “We are light years better than we were in the Culpeper game (on Sept. 17).”
In freshman Mawyer, Buzzo feels Liberty is developing a field general: “He is coming along great. He’s taken that job.”
The Eagles dominated the early going, taking a 7-0 lead just 44 seconds into the game. Noah Hall set up the Eagles at the Millbrook 40 with a big kickoff return. Mawyer hit Caporaletti for 16 yards, then ran 20 yards to the 4. Owens ran up the middle through a big hole for four yards for the TD.
The Eagles’ defense stepped up, forcing two straight Millbrook three-and-outs, before the Pioneers scored on a 21-yard field goal by Patrick Sigler to make it 7-3.
Liberty drove 65 yards on its next possession to take a 14-3 on Joey Triplett’s sensational catch in the back end of the end zone, then drove deep into Millbrook territory again.
But, in one of the game’s key turning points, the drive ended with an interception on the Millbrook 25, and on first down Millbrook’s Braden George took a short pass, eluded some Eagle tacklers and went 75 yards up the left sideline to make it 14-10.
Liberty answered with a 32-yard field goal by Nick Paratore, followed by an interception by Jaden Ulloa, which led to a 2-yard run by Noah Chinault for a 24-10 lead with 2:43 left in the first half.
Millbrook closed to 24-17 at halftime as quarterback Brown scrambled and found Cohen Creswell for an 18-yard TD with 31 seconds left.
Liberty stopped two straight Millbrook drives in Liberty territory to open the third, but a costly Liberty turnover soon followed as Mawyer threw a pass to the right sideline to Millbrook cornerback Canada, who took the pass with no one nearby and sailed 15 yards into the end zone with the pick six to make it 24-24 with 5:38 left in the third.
“That one is on me. That was not a good play call at that yard-line,” said Buzzo.
On its next possession, Liberty regained the lead at 31-24 when Mawyer hit Caporaletti on a 38-yard TD strike with 3:34 left in the third. The freshman rolled out, planted and found the junior a yard into the end zone.
Liberty recovered a Millbrook fumble at the Pioneers’ 29 on the next sequence, but a fourth down conversion at the 25 failed. The Pioneers went 75 yards in nine plays to make it 31-31 on Brown’s 32-yard TD pass to Chris Standen with 10:04 left in the fourth.
Liberty had three subsequent possessions, but could not score. They reached the Millbrook 26 on their final drive, but went backwards due to penalties.
Taking the ball first in OT, Liberty gained six yards on a Mawyer run, then reached the 3-yard line on a surge by Royce Hall. On third down, Mawyer rolled left and threw across his body to Caporaletti right at the goal-line for the TD.
Paratore’s extra point made it 38-31 as the Liberty band struck a triumphant tune.
But Millbrook’s quick TD, followed by a timeout to consider the two-point conversion soon brought defeat as Brown rolled out and scored.
Leaving the game, several students were heard expressing their fears that Liberty could lose the Bird Bowl this year.